Meet the Gen Z Graphic Artist Helping Asian People Prioritize Joy

Photo: Ashley Thompson | Our Era| Well + Good Creative
If it feels like your mental health is under attack, you're not alone. From the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the rise in anti-Asian and anti-Black violence, it's easy to feel like the world is swallowing everyone whole. Despite the endless parade of despair on screens and social feeds, Gen Z activists and content creators are cultivating intentional online spaces.

One such creator is Kim Saira (@kimsaira), a 25-year-old queer Filipino graphic artist who uses her platform to center Asian joy and well-being. "My biggest knowing how radical [joy] is, especially for marginalized folks, like a lot of Asian folks," she says. "We've gone through so much turmoil the past couple of years, and the concept of rest and joy are truly so radical because we have been conditioned to believe that it's not ours."

Saira is right. Recent data suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has increased instances of anti-Asian violence by 339 percent, and, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), Gen Z was least likely to report very good or excellent mental health. In the face of such tremendous difficulty, Gen Z often responds with resilience and creativity. So, for Mental Health Awareness Month, Instagram is teaming up with Gen Z magazine Our Era to highlight Saira and three other emerging creators who use social media to highlight well-being.

Below, Saira spoke with Well + Good about how she prioritizes self care and how her values influence her work. 

Your work centers on AAPI joy and rest. What are some things that genuinely bring you a lot of pleasure?

I feel empowered to do things that give me joy, for example, reading, roller skating, or going to the beach, but I'm very much a workaholic. I'm very much tied to my desk, and I'm tied to social media. But when I think about it, investing in your rest is a form of liberation. And when I think about that, I'm like, "I'm going to put down my shit and go hang out with my friends."

How do you ensure that you keep some creativity for yourself—or are work and creative play combined?

Wow, this is a really good question. It's very much combined because my artwork—the creative craft and the mission—are very much aligned to who I am as a person, so it's not hard for me to produce. But also, I recognize that I am in a privileged position where I'm working for myself, and I'm not creating for someone else's approval. I'm not creating and having someone approve my work. 

"At a certain time of day, I'm logged off. You won't catch me online."

How do you prioritize caring for yourself and setting boundaries around work and leisure?

Most of what I do is very much in service to the community. And I get drained if I'm not prioritizing my boundaries, specifically with social media, because that's the medium I use. At a certain time of day, I'm logged off. You won't catch me online. I definitely have boundaries on the weekends. Social media boundaries are important to me.

Another thing that I do to center and ground myself is just having moments of complete silence. I need to be with myself and by myself so that I can journal about what I'm feeling. Often when I'm not pausing, I lose intentionality. I forget why I'm doing things.

What practices have you set in place to tell when you need to recharge?

I have ADD, but I also have tried to have some sort of discipline with a very short meditation practice every day. Right now, it's like three to five minutes, just so that I can observe what's happening inside my head. So I have a meditation practice. I try to be disciplined about that.

The second thing is that I allow myself to be angry. If I'm feeling angry or sad, there's no way I'm holding it in. I'll literally put time on my calendar, and I'll say, 'Okay, turn everything off. You're going to be mad right now. So I actually schedule things out in my calendar because if it's not there, I don't really make the time to do it. I'll push down the feeling. 

If people could take away one sentiment about mental health and self-care from you, what would it be?

To be honest with you, a lot of people don't have access to therapy, nor does it work for everyone. That's the truth of it, and that's valid. So just understanding that healing has become a popularized word, commercialized in some sense, but really what it is at its core, in my opinion, is getting back to what makes you understand and learn about yourself.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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